What Else Happened This Week?
The Arab world's revolutions and the Japan's earthquake fallout weren't the only major developments.
Civil war in the Ivory Coast
After weeks of dancing around the fact, the world is finally saying it out loud: The Ivory Coast has returned to civil war. In recent weeks, as many as 1 million people have fled the capital, Abidjan; thousands of young men have taken up arms; and nearly 500 people have died in violent clashes. In the country’s interior, armed groups are fighting to control swathes of territory, sending tens of thousands more fleeing into neighboring Liberia. The ongoing conflict stems from a political stalemate between incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo and the internationally recognized President Alassane Ouattara. Following the coalition intervention in Libya, calls have escalated for the United Nations to invoke a similar mandate to protect civilians in the Ivory Coast. On Thursday, the African Union officially requested that the U.N. Security Council expand the mandate of U.N. peacekeepers in the country, allowing them to oust Gbagbo. France introduced a resolution in the Security Council on Friday calling for a ban on heavy weaponry in Abidjan. But with little geopolitical significance and a long history of protracted conflict, the Ivory Coast will likely remain on the international backburner.
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Canadian government falls
It wasn’t quite as dramatic as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall, but the Canadian government fell on March 25 after Prime Minister Stephen Harper lost a no-confidence vote in parliament. Canada’s three main opposition parties came together to defeat Harper, in power since 2006, after a parliamentary report found the government in contempt for failing to disclose the cost of a spending program. But the Liberal-led coalition’s triumph may be short-lived. Elections are likely to be held in early May, and polls indicate that Harper is likely to win again.
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Former Ukrainian president charged over murder
There was a major development in the investigation of Ukraine’s most notorious post-Soviet crime this week when prosecutors charged former President Leonid Kuchma in connection with the 2000 murder of investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze. The grisly killing of the 31-year-old reporter, a persistent critic of the president, shocked Ukraine, particularly after a tape emerged of a voice that sounded like the president’s giving orders to “deal” with him. The incident was a major factor leading up to the 2003 Orange Revolution, which pushed Kuchma’s allies from power. A former interior ministry employee has confessed to strangling Gongadze and beheading him with an axe, but authorities have, until now, been reluctant to investigate who gave the order for the attack. Prosecutors have stopped short of accusing Kuchma of actually ordering the attack, accusing him only of taking actions that led to Gongadze’s death. In any case, Kuchma may not take the rap, even if he is convicted. The crime he is charged with — “exceeding his authority” — is subject to a 10-year statute of limitations.
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Kenya reportedly invades Somalia
Early this week, members of the Kenyan military are reported to have crossed the border into neighboring Somalia to help fight the Islamic insurgent group al-Shabaab. For the last half decade, Kenya has supported the Somali government’s military quest to put down the rebellion, although this would be the first instance of direct Kenyan intervention. Kenyan officials fear that a Somalia dominated by al-Shabaab could become a new haven for al Qaeda, as fighters flee Iraq and Afghanistan. Al-Shabaab has already proven that it can carry out attacks outside Somalia; last July, it bombed several restaurants in Uganda where people had gathered to watch the World Cup. Yet even with Kenyan help — if it is forthcoming — Somalia’s transitional government will likely continue to struggle to keep the Islamists at bay. Another round of heavy clashes between government and insurgent forces broke out in the capital on Friday.
Mexican ambassador recalled
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual became the latest casualty of WikiLeaks this week when he was recalled to Washington over some leaked cables in which he described Mexico’s war on drugs as a failure. Mexican President Felipe Calderón had repeatedly demanded that Pascual be replaced, accusing him of “ignorance,” particularly over comments describing Mexico’s armed forces as “risk averse.” Other cables describe corruption as “widespread” throughout the Mexican government and prosecution rates for organized crime as “dismal.” Pascual also reports in one cable that Calderón “has openly admitted to having a tough year” and “has seemed ‘down’ in meetings.” Pascual is the second U.S. ambassador recalled over WikiLeaks revelations, following Ambassador to Libya Gene Cretz, author of the now-notorious “voluptuous blond” nurse cable. Mexican officials had some doubts about Pascual from the beginning: The former Ukraine ambassador and Brookings Institution scholar is known as an authority on state failure.
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Corruption woes continue for Singh
Already reeling from the impending indictment of a former telecoms minister on corruption charges, India’s ruling Congress party suffered another blow late last week when a WikiLeaks cable was released containing allegations that MPs were bribed with “chests of cash” to secure their support during a crucial no-confidence government vote in 2008. The vote had been called by leftist parties to express disapproval of a controversial weapons deal with the United States. Singh took to the floor of Parliament to deny the allegation, saying the cable contained “insufficient evidence to draw any conclusion.” This prompted a rebuke from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who called Singh’s statement a “deliberate attempt to mislead the public.” Singh has so far managed keep himself out of his party’s myriad scandals, but it’s unclear how much longer he can remain above the fray.
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Portuguese government falls
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates joined his counterparts from Iceland, Hungary, and Ireland on the growing list of leaders taken down by the global financial crisis. Socrates tendered his resignation on March 23 after his latest austerity measures — the fourth package of cuts in less than a year — were rejected by parliament. Portugal has had its debt rating slashed by both Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings this week, bringing its credit close to junk bond status and making the prospect of an EU bailout — like those accepted by Greece and Ireland last year — more likely, a topic that dominated discussion at this week’s EU summit. Socrates’s center-left Socialist party will likely remain in power as a caretaker government until new elections can be held in May or June.
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Former Israeli President jailed for rape
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict roared back into the headlines this week with Jerusalem’s first major terrorist attack in years and escalating violence on the Gaza border. But the Israeli political world was also reeling over the March 22 conviction of former President Moshe Katsav on rape charges. Katsav was sentenced to seven years in jail for the rape of an employee while he was tourism minister during the 1990s, as well as other sexual offences while he was president. He stepped down from the largely ceremonial position in 2007. Prison officials are reportedly worried that Katsav, who broke down in tears as he was sentenced, may try to take his own life while in custody.
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Google vs. China: Round II
In Google’s latest run-in with Beijing, the search giant accused Chinese government censors of interfering with its email service. In a statement, the company said that recent glitches with signing on to Gmail in China were caused by “a government blockage carefully designed to look like the problem is with Gmail.” China’s foreign ministry called Google’s statement an “unacceptable accusation” and refused to comment further. The Chinese government has recently ramped up its online censorship efforts in response to the pro-democracy protests in the Middle East and planned demonstrations in China. Earlier this year, Google announced that it would no longer cooperate with Chinese government requests to censor search results and moved its Chinese-language search engine to Hong Kong, which operates under different laws from mainland China.
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Haiti awaits election results
Against long odds, Haiti’s run-off election appeared to go well on March 20. The first round of voting last November ended in chaos and violence, but Sunday’s contest between professor and former first lady Mirlande Manigat and pop singer Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly was, according to international observers, “much more peaceful” than the last round. Tensions were heightened by the return of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on Friday. The United States had requested that Aristide, who was deposed in two separate coups, delay his return from South Africa until after the election. But his presence doesn’t seem to have been much of a factor. The run-off didn’t go completely without incident, however: Rapper and onetime presidential aspirate Wyclef Jean claimed to have been shot in the hand on the eve of the vote.
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A new spill in the Gulf
Louisiana officials were confounded last weekend when a thin oil slick washed up on around 30 miles of Gulf shoreline. Initial tests sought to determine whether it might have been residual oil left over from last April’s massive Deepwater Horizon spill, but it turns out that yet another offshore drilling accident may have occurred. Tests matched the oil with crude that Houston-based Anglo-Suisse Offshore Partners had reported spilling from one of its wells. The latest accident comes at a bad time for federal regulators, who have just approved four new permits for deepwater drilling in the Gulf — not to mention Gulf fishermen and residents.
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